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Overly Familiar Sci-Fi

Leo Sasquatch Problem - we live in the future. (368 comments)

This morning, the radio switched itself on and gently brought me awake with the news. After 10 minutes, I rolled out from under the duvet and reflected how the money we'd spent on that memory foam mattress had been totally worth it. 5 minutes in the shower saw me both cleaner and more awake in equal measure, and I rapped on my son's door as I went past. I'm sure he was on the Xbox until 3:00 a.m., and he knows it's a uni day, but there was no response. I made some scrambled eggs in the microwave, and by the time the toast had popped and the kettle had boiled for a cup of instant, I felt almost human. The bus stop isn't far from my house, and I paid my £3 and took my seat. My phone picked up the wi-fi automatically, so I pointed my browser at the BBC and started streaming an episode of ISIRTA I hadn't heard, before settling in for a few games of Angry Birds. Halfway to work, the sun was rising over the Pentlands, so I grabbed a couple of quick shots, and updated my facebook status.

When I got to work, I flashed my badge at the building and it let me in. I'd checked the rota the night before and knew I was gutter rat this week- cleaning up the messes, so I downloaded the overnight error logs to my workstation and got busy tracing batch script failures. Peter, Mandy and Eddie were already there, but my team leader, Meera, was off ill, so I covered her phone. 3 cappuccinos, and 16 error logs later it was lunchtime, and I'd been so busy, I hadn't even gone out for a cigarette.

A normal morning, slightly compressed to fit everything in. There's a lot in there. Socio-economic status, employment, I'm old enough to have a son at university, the fact that my immediate boss is both female and non-Caucasian, no smoking in the building. The team's split roughly equally on gender lines. Eddie's gay, but that won't enter into the story so I'll never mention it. There's a lot of implicit assumptions - the reader will know what an Xbox is, cultural references. Never mind 100 years, you only have to roll it back 10 years for the 'Angry Birds' and 'Facebook' items to have no intrinsic meaning. Roll it back just 50 and we lose 'Xbox', 'microwave', 'memory foam', 'wi-fi', 'browser' as words, and the concepts that go along with their use. And how would I take shots of the sunrise without a camera? 'Streaming' is still a word, but the context is missing. And in 1964, the idea that my boss at any job, let alone a technical one, would be female and non-Caucasian, would be pretty unusual. Why would I leave the building for a cigarette? And what's with £3 for bus fare to work - where do I live, the Outer Hebrides? How did I get cappuccinos at work? Why have I got a phone on a bus?

We live in a world that would have largely been science fiction just 50 years ago. Extrapolating was hard then, and harder now. You don't need the Singularity or a post-scarcity economy to mess things up, just the micro-processor and the Internet. Nobody saw them coming. The changes they've brought have been so staggering in magnitude that it makes it all the more obvious that attempting to predict the future changes is getting sillier all the time.

Mr Stross writes lovely Mythos stories, and Accelerando is pretty good. But the one I'm trying to read at the moment, about the immortal robots all pretending to be human after the humans all died out is purely fucking tedious. It's super-futuristic, and the hard science of long, boring planetary travel is well done, but I can't remember its name right now, or the main character, and that never bodes well.

about 2 months ago

Recommendations For Classic Superhero Comic Collections?

Leo Sasquatch Golden Age is difficult to read (165 comments)

The art is often really basic, and the stories are often not up to much, because the writers weren't paid very much, so they just made up random stuff each month. Ooh, let's send Batman into space again, to fight crime on the planet of the Celery-heads.

You want to see what the medium can really do, go by author, not characters. Anything by Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Lost Girls, Necronomicon, Marvelman), Neil Gaiman (Sandman), Garth Ennis (Punisher, War Stories), Warren Ellis (late Stormwatch, early Authority, Nextwave), Grant Morrison (Animal Man, WE3, the Invisibles). These authors can all, on a good day, push the boundaries of the medium.

The Golden Age is useful to understand some of the later parodies and homages. You need to read some very early Batman with the Bill Finger/Dick Sprang artwork to appreciate the beautiful pastiche in the 4th season episode of the animated Batman. You need to read some 50's Superman/Superboy to get the whole gist of Alan Moore's run on Supreme. The Silver Age is where comics start to get properly readable - the socially relevant Green Lanterns of the early 70's where Speedy does heroin, or the gorgeously gothic Neal Adams/Dick Giordano early 70's Batman. Before that there's a bit too much Bat-Mite, Mr Myxyzptlk and Streaky the Supercat for my liking.

about 8 months ago

Hulu Blocks VPN Users

Leo Sasquatch How terrible (259 comments)

I mean, it's not as if there's any other sites on the net where you can get streaming video, or canned video, or torrents, or people sharing their favourite shows.

It's not like it takes about 5 mouse-clicks to find an alternate source for practically anything. No, Hulu clearly have everyone completely over a barrel and we must just do everything they say if we're to be allowed to consume their entertainment the way they want us to.

about 9 months ago

The Battle For the Game Industry's Soul

Leo Sasquatch Breaking the illusion (272 comments)

I remember the first time I found I was able to shoot glass out of a window - Counter-Strike. I spent ages doing just that, because of the novelty value - here was a substance in game that reacted the way it would in real life. I recognised it as a limitation of the medium, way back in the day, but it always used to annoy me when I couldn't shoot out a window in Half-Life. Or any game where a locked door impeded progress because I didn't have the key, although I was toting 6 lbs of explosives at the time.

Try shooting the farmer at the start of Halo Reach. Your gun goes bang, and there's a damage splatter appears on the other side of his head, but he won't stop talking. If you keep shooting him, after 10 shots, you die, not because your squadmates have realised that you're shooting civilians and gun you down, but a vengeful god just smites you down.

It'll be interesting to see how far the new engines go in terms of world design. Obviously there won't be civilians, or women, or children, but it'd be nice to be able to shoot out the legs of a water tower and have it collapse, because that's what the objects would do under real-world-conditions, and not just because it's a pre-programmed set-piece and the only way to complete the level. It's be nice to see enemies who weren't Terminators - combat robots who have to be completely destroyed to kill them, that can take all but 1 HP of damage and still be at 100% combat effectiveness. Maybe sometimes some of them could realise that you've just killed everyone else in their squad, and simply decide to run away.

It's also interesting to see how narrow their definitions of 'realism' are - they'll model stubble, sweat, and the texture of equipment webbing, but nobody ever bleeds, or screams, or goes mad. They'll model the correct serial number on an 21st century assault rifle, yet it'll deliver a target grouping that would shame a musket.

And I think Just Cause 2 was the last game I played where you really seemed to have a huge amount of freedom over the order you did the missions in, and there was a whole lot to do if you didn't want to do a mission. I hate purely linear games, where you have to do one thing, and until you do that to the game's satisfaction, you're not getting to do anything else. As soon as you reach a situation where you *have* to do something, rather than *want* to do something, that's work, not play; and if I'm working, I expect to be getting paid, not paying for the privilege.

about a year ago

Sony's PS4 To Have Less Stringent DRM Than Microsoft's Xbox One

Leo Sasquatch It's Bill Hicks with the puppets all over again! (509 comments)

"I think the locked-down PC-in-a-box on the left is my favourite"

"No, the locked-down PC-in-a-box on the right is obviously superior!"

And to many of the rest of us, these nearly identical (both inside and out) boxes look to have the same sort of power as the gaming rigs we built two years ago. A lot of people still haven't gone HD, and only a small fraction of gamers have gone much beyond 1080p. 1080p looks pretty good on most screen sizes, but for 99% of the consumer market, there's no point going past that because the display hardware in people's houses can't display it. So once you've got hardware that'll do 1080p, you'd better have something much cleverer as a selling-point in your game, because the last gasp of "Ooh, teh shiniez!" as a major selling point was probably about three years ago.

And so far, all they seem to have are pre-rendered demos that show off the shiniez, and Sony claiming to suck slightly less terribly than Microsoft.

Really? Is that it? You want $500 out of me in the middle of a recession, when I already have a 360, PS3 and a gaming PC? You're really going to have to try a lot harder than that.

about a year and a half ago

NYC Police Comm'r: Privacy Is 'Off the Table' After Boston Bombs

Leo Sasquatch We need the cameras (508 comments)

Because when CODE NIGHTMARE GREEN kicks off, if those cameras aren't loaded with SCORPION STARE, we've had it...

about 2 years ago

JMS and Wachowskis Teaming Up for New Netflix Funded Scifi Series

Leo Sasquatch Space science fiction is encumbered (268 comments)

Not to mention expensive to do properly.

You have to postulate working anti-gravity without acknowledging the ramifications of that technology. Or spend more on wirework and/or CGI than can be coped with by a standard show's budget.

And you have to find plots that haven't been done before. Without resorting to reversing the polarity of the neutron flow or getting this cheese to Sickbay. There's what, about 800 episodes of Trek in all its incarnations, plus Galactica old and new, Babylon 5, and stuff that only made very short runs, S:AAB, Space Rangers etc.

All the science fiction from the last decade I can think of is earth-based, and I don't think it's because it's easier or cheaper to make, although it probably is. I think much of it is because any time someone comes up with an idea for a space-based series, it just sounds like Star Trek, The Nth Generation, or Babylon 6.

about 2 years ago

Xbox 720 Could Require Always-On Connection, Lock Out Used Games

Leo Sasquatch Thanks, Microsoft (592 comments)

Just made the next few months so much easier, because all the hype, specs, leaks, teasers and general media d1ck-sucking can be safely ignored.

You've chosen to release a console that's less powerful than the PC I built 2 years ago, so heavily encrusted with DRM that it will get in the way of playing games I have purchased. Router bounces - say goodbye to your game session. ISP has problems - no games for you, you filthy thief.

Here's a little hint, MS - you are not the only game in town. There has never been such excellent choice in the games and console market. I can run MAME on my Raspberry Pi, or Skyrim at full shiniez on the PC. What do you have to offer that's so unique? Halo? No, that's not looking a bit tired at all. Halo 5? Wow, I wonder what you have to do in *that* game!? (hint: shoot aliens...)

My PC plays anything that needs heavy lifting - my 360, Dreamcast, N64, PS3, PS2 and Saturn all still work, and I have plenty games to tide me over your entire current console lifecycle. Really, what are you offering this time around to make up for all this shit?

about 2 years ago

Next-Gen Console Wars Will Soon Begin In Earnest

Leo Sasquatch Sounds like the gaming PC I built 2 years ago (284 comments)

which still plays everything at fullscreen and maximum shiniez - Saint's Row 3, Skyrim, Max Payne 3, Borderlands 2 - all look utterly amazing. Only two glitches on install - Rage, which required the special magic Catalyst drivers, and Psychonauts through the Humble Bundle which turned out to be a corrupt installer. 4 TB of HD space means all my movies are on the system and shareable with the 360s in the house through TVersity. 360 wired controller plugs straight into front USB port for racing games. It wasn't cheap, but it wasn't frighteningly expensive - it wasn't absolute cutting-edge hardware, it was the best bang-for-buck I could get at the time.

So if I could build a machine with this power 2 years ago, why are the front-runners in the industry only just getting round to it now? Are they always going to be behind the curve, because they're having to homogenise the hardware? By the time they've finalised the design, got the devkits out to the software houses, and prepped the factories for production of the final unit, are they're always going to be x amount of time behind the leading edge?

Maybe they're just counting on the fact that the bulk of console gamers will be impressed by 1920x1080 at 60fps.

about 2 years ago

Pakistan Boycotting Call of Duty, Medal of Honor Games

Leo Sasquatch Side effect of realism (220 comments)

If the games were set in fictitious countries, they'd get dinged for it. An interesting writing challenge for these games would be to anonymise the locations - in effect, to amplify the murky nature of the operations concerned. "We were down in South America somewhere, some rathole of a banana republic..." or "We'd been travelling upriver for a couple of days, heading deep into African jungle..." The original Bond books did it quite well - the idea that the top echelons of the various intelligence agencies had realised that they were all on the same side (i.e. the side that likes money and power in quite huge quantities) and were running their own organisation that wasn't based on or in any particular country. And they weren't going to let any grubby little politicians mess it up.

about 2 years ago

The New Series of Doctor Who: Fleeing From Format?

Leo Sasquatch The scariest monster should be the Doctor (170 comments)

The Doctor has dealt with crises from a little girl with a psycho-active imagination, to genocidal extinction and universe-threatening cataclysms. He looks like a little, fussy man in a bowtie, but is a 1,000 year old alien with vast storehouses of knowledge and a very non-human perspective.

There are many ways this could be explored; where the Doctor has to do the right thing, which isn't necessarily the good thing. I also wish that the plot line they had in mind for Colin Baker's Doctor could have been done properly, instead of being mangled about by writer's strikes etc. For its time, it was quite revolutionary - the idea that the Doctor's regeneration had gone subtly wrong, leaving him more like the Master than the Doctor. The Sixth Doctor's arc was meant to be a slow descent into hell for the character, and any companions unfortunate enough to get caught up in his self-destruction, before his realisation that it had all gone wrong, and his deliberate suicide, in the hope that the next regeneration would correct the problem, because he was too dangerous to leave running around.

That arc would have made the Sixth Doctor a damaged and tragic figure in the Who mythos, not just the 'bit of a twat' he's generally regarded as, which I feel is a bit unfair to Colin Baker.

more than 2 years ago

Ask Slashdot: Explaining Role-Playing Games To the Uninitiated?

Leo Sasquatch Collaborative Story-telling (197 comments)

Or like an improvised play. Or like a half-written thriller novel, where you're trying to work out how it might have ended. Depends who I'm trying to explain it to, and why.

I got a job once because on the interview form, where it said to state an achievement I was most proud of, I listed a 3.5 year RPG campaign that I wrote from scratch, designed the system for and GM'med every episode on a weekly basis. When they asked me about it, I explained how this involves system design, small-team leadership, group discussion and input, fast reactions to new data and events, and a huge amount of thinking on one's feet.

What I didn't mention were the puns that could stun at 20 paces; laughing so hard that it felt like God herself had opened the top of my head and kissed my naked brain; and the ability to reduce grown men and women to genuine laughter and tears with a handful of pencilled notes on a piece of paper.

What I couldn't mention is that some things grow out of these adventures organically, and there exists no way to describe them to outsiders. There is too much context required, and you know their eyes would glaze over long before you reached the punchline. There are only a handful of people on this planet who will ever understand why: "Range to target?" "B flat!" is funny, or grok what we meant by "Warm up the anthrax cannons, the main speakers, and the rotisserie!", or know why the cry of "Death from above!" is *always* followed by the line "Chocolates from Switzerland!". And that's as it should be.

I'll never understand why anyone would care about the outcome of a game that they didn't have money riding on; the mundanes will never understand why we never stopped telling ourselves stories.

more than 2 years ago

Could Flying Cars Actually Be On Their Way?

Leo Sasquatch Flying cars, no. Personal flight, probably not. (381 comments)

As many people have pointed out, a flying car is a bad amalgam of two vehicles that are designed to do very different things. There are a number of other alternatives for personal flight that keep popping up and just as quickly, being shut down. The Williams X-Jet, the Solotrek, the GEN H-4 personal helicopter and a handful of others that 5 minutes Googling would uncover. These are designed as point-to-point VTOL transport, suitable for short to medium range flights, and all run on standard engines, and standard fuel.

Personal flight is a game-changer. The powers that be don't really want it changed. It's not physics, engineering or fuel efficiency that's stopping it from happening - all those problems have already been solved. The only problem is people. Specifically, the people in charge. It doesn't matter how cheap this kit gets, or how safe and efficient, Joe Public will not be allowed to have one. Taxes and licences (and hardcore punishments for not having one...) will keep people earthbound, because no government on earth could cope with its people being given the freedom of the 3rd dimension. Borders and passports would become archaic reminders of a time when you used to have to ask permission from your government to be allowed to travel around. There would be diasporas from cities as people became able to live miles out of town, without the commute being an issue on narrow country roads.

Fully-functional personal flight devices - flying cars, if you like - already exist, and can cost no more than a luxury car (Gen H-4 for $60K), but the chances of you ever getting off the ground in one are slim. Red tape will keep them down much more effectively than gravity.

more than 2 years ago

Ask Slashdot: What's the Most Depressing Sci-fi You've Ever Read?

Leo Sasquatch The Year of the Sex Olympics (1365 comments)

by Nigel Kneale of Quatermass fame. 30 years before it actually happened he nailed the whole concept of reality television. Only a B/W print survives due to the BBC being a cunch of bunts, but it almost works better that way. I've seen shooting stills, and the 1968 day-glo colours on everything might make it look dated. The shots of the sniggering proles when it all starts to go pear-shaped are still disturbing to this day.

Most depressing story I ever read, I can't remember the title of - maybe someone can help. Short story, being written from the point of someone who is Atoning. What is she Atoning for? Well, humanity found this abandoned world. All beautifully laid out, slightly odd architecture, but ready for humans to just move in. And food in abundance, with the most delicious vegetables. Who turn out to be the inhabitants, who go dormant every so often, like 17-year locusts. They wake up to find this strange alien race camped out on their planet, chowing down on their unborn children. Worse than that, they're such an advanced species, they forgive us. We weren't being evil, just very stupid. So the human race Atones by returning parts of their body to the biosphere of the world, and the reveal is that this person is largely artificial now, because she'd been on-world for so long, that she was mostly composed of local proteins.

Cracking story, totally alien aliens, and the idea that we hadn't invaded, or attacked, we'd just buggered up the evolution of an entire species that would take generations to fix, because we got it horribly wrong.

more than 2 years ago

How Much Detail Is Too Much For Games?

Leo Sasquatch Use a colour palette with actual colours (201 comments)

I'm sick of games using a colour palette muted to the point where a state-of-the-art game contains black, grey and 18 shades of brown.

Spec Ops: The LIne balances stunning opulence against desert ruins, but even the desert has more colours than Rage managed in the entire game.

Too many devs seem to think that colourful=cartoony, so you only get Ratchet and Clank games that actually remember your TV can actually do red, green and blue as themselves. And too many devs would rather put all the effort into extra textures and lighting, rather than using it to handle more realistic environments. I want more cars in GTA V, not just higher-res versions of the earlier ones. I want to be able to shoot out the tyres and every window, not have it be a hyper-detailed texture applied to a rolling brick.

Do many of these devs not do beta-testing? If a level is incomprehensible within the canon of the game - you designed it wrong..

more than 2 years ago

The Decline of Fiction In Video Games

Leo Sasquatch Good writing is hard (197 comments)

Good acting is expensive. Good plotting is complex. Game-makers have limited resources. Most developers seem to want to put more effort/time/money into polishing the shiniez than producing an elegant story. Probably because the reviews will slate them solidly if the game looks a bit ropey, but weak acting, plot etc. gets much less abuse.

I was put off ever playing Heavy Rain when I learned that there's only one killer. What are you going to do - play it twice and act surprised at the ending? I'm sure it would have been technically possible to set the game up so in each new game the killer was any one of a number of possible suspects, but the amount of plot-tracking that would require means it didn't make it into the finished game.

Some games do an excellent job of combining story and plot (which aren't the same thing). Half-Life and its sequels all have a very simple plot - escape, but the story of how you go about it is beautifully detailed. Both Witcher games do an amazing job, in that the consequences of your actions aren't always visible until much, much later. Mass Effect 1 had a good try, and all the Geneforge games have huge, rich backstories running through them. But the player should drive the story, not just be subjected to large arbitrary chunks of it for no reason as in MGS4.

Video games have the same capacity for storytelling as any other entertainment medium, but the producers have to be prepared to pay for it on creation, and the public have to be prepared to pay for it on delivery.

more than 2 years ago

EA Outs Battlefield 4, Plans To Charge $70 For New Games

Leo Sasquatch Depends what you're paying for. (323 comments)

If they've upgraded the game engine significantly, opened up the world (or at least removed the artillery insta-death wall around all the levels), and made the enemy take wounding damage and react accordingly, then yes, that's a distinct improvement over previous iterations of the franchise. If it's just what amounts to a map pack for the same engine with a short-ass totally linear single-player campaign bolted on, then it's Doom with extra shiniez and they can go phuq themselves.

I'm going to use my awesome psychic powers here to predict that it's a map pack with a 10-hour campaign bolted on, and a handful of obscure weapons added to the multiplayer. Because that's much, much cheaper than actually doing any work.

Most games companies (excluding Valve) are no longer in the business of providing top-quality entertainment. Their job now is to figure out precisely how little they can give you, and how much they can charge you, before you finally vote with your wallet and go somewhere else. You know that if the game makers came up with a 16-hour campaign, the publishers would release an 8-hour campaign, and 2 x 4-hour DLC.

I haven't bought anything in the last 6 months that wasn't on Steam. Still working through Arkham City, Psychonauts, Serious Sam 3, Braid, Rock of Ages, and Assassins Creed. I don't need or want to buy any new games at $70 or UKP equivalent - I'll just wait until they show up on Steam in a year for half that.

more than 2 years ago

PC Sales Are Flat-Lining

Leo Sasquatch 4 PCs in 14 years (485 comments)

1998, 2002, 2007, 2011. Some upgrades - 1998 was 400MHz CPU and 64M RAM with a 12M Voodoo 2. 2011 was 6-core Phenom 2, 8G RAM and 1G 6870. All built as gaming rigs in their time. But if you build it right, it lasts a while. They're not impulse purchases. Once every 4-5 years, just replace everything. Can't be arsed trying to do partial upgrades and squeeze another few fps out of a system that's just not up to it.

And if you just want to read your email, a smartphone will do in a pinch, but a tablet will do fine. Practically anything on the market will do it - doesn't need to be a top-of-the-range iPad. So only gamers are buying PCs. Businesses aren't - we have 5 year old machines in the office that still run XP and Office just fine. We don't need multi-core setups and uber-gfx cards to do Powerpoint and Excel. We have no upgrade plans for at least 3 years and we'll probably completely leapfrog Win7 when we do. PCs got 'good enough' a while back - no wonder the market's flattened out.

more than 2 years ago

Early Look at Steampunk Action-Adventure Game Dishonored

Leo Sasquatch Re:I don't get steampunk. (58 comments)

You can see how the machine works.

I played with steam engines as a kid. I made miniature hot-air balloons, with candles and large thin paper bags. I rebuilt car and bike engines as an adult, because I understand how these things work. I don't understand electrons. I don't really know how my PC works - I built it, but it was just a question of assembling the components in the proper order and loading up a ton of software that someone else wrote. When it goes wrong, my only usual recourse is to switch off and on again, and in severe cases, re-install Windows.

I think a lot of the appeal of steampunk is that people do understand it - dirigibles, semaphore, steam and diesel engines are things you could explain to any educated person of the last few hundred years in a few minutes. Mobile phones might as well be magic boxes to 99% of the people who carry them around - Clarke's Law has kicked in with a vengeance.

more than 2 years ago

Activision Turning The Walking Dead Into a First-Person Shooter

Leo Sasquatch Never 'got' Walking Dead (102 comments)

Read the first issues of the comic - kudos to the creator for trying, but it wasn't very good.

Watched the first episode of the TV series, which was just utter shit. An inherent problem with zombie-based plots, is that no-one in them is allowed to have ever seen a zombie film, read a zombie comic, played House of the Dead etc. So they act stupid, which gets them killed, and if you're acting stupider than a zombie, that's pretty damn stupid. The hero finds a perfect location - a police station with its own generator, hot water supply, a supply of guns and ammo, and the closest thing to an actual fortress that you'll find in a modern city. Eminently defensible. So he leaves after taking a shower. And wanders among the zombies wearing a short-sleeved shirt. At which point, I lost all interest in the doings of anybody so retarded. He might as well have doused himself in steak sauce, shoved a sprig of parsley up his arse and laid down next to a sign reading Welcome To The All-You-Can-Eat Fuckwit Buffet.

Although you'd think zombies would be the perfect enemies for a video game, (no remorse about killing something already dead), few have been any good. Dead Rising could have been excellent, were it not for the fact that weapons broke so easily. Have you ever tried to break a crowbar? Dead Island was just appalling, and Left for Dead is ok, if you have a group of decent players, as the bots are not overly bright. It also feels a little odd - computer-controlled NPCs vs computer-controlled zombies - kinda feels like you could leave the machine on, not pick up a controller, and the game would play away quite happily without you. Not exactly the sense of total immersion I want in a game.

more than 2 years ago


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